“Business is an act of citizenship”: using BIDs to promote inclusive economic growth in communities

The key to inclusive place based economic growth?

The principle of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) is pretty straightforward, and the legislation in Scotland is flexible enough to ensure that pretty much anyone can create and act on a BID-based idea. There are currently over 30 live BID projects in Scotland, with BIDs Scotland stating in their latest annual report that they believe this number could almost double to 65 by the end of 2017 if upcoming and scheduled BIDs are also taken into account. The report found that, despite continuing tough economic conditions, there appears to be little evidence of a decline in interest in the BID model. If anything, more people are turning to BIDs as a way of improving local high streets using limited local funds, private investment from local businesses, and other local assets.

BIDs themselves can be seen as a cross section – a mix of the entire economic ecosystem of a place. They can encompass economic, business, local, political and social elements and bring them together in a strategic way to build revenue to support the different aspects of the BID area, including aesthetics, security and commerce. They are locally developed, locally managed, locally financed and locally delivered, giving a sense of authenticity which is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. This popularity is evidenced by the successful renewal of all of the BIDs in Scotland who have gone to reballot to date, with many actually increasing their majority in favour of the BID model.

Collaboration and embedding BIDS within their local communities

As BIDs have been developed, and new models, partnerships and ways of co- operating have been established, BID coordinators and councils in particular are thinking about how to ensure the legacy of the BID within their locality and, more importantly, how to ensure that the economic benefits of the BID are felt across the BID area, not just within the businesses.

This area-wide benefit can be created by for example, re-investing money in security, street lighting, Christmas lights, and flower baskets to improve the feel and aesthetics of a place – actions which are commonplace in BID areas. However, there are some who feel that BIDs could and should go even further in increasing their social value within a community, while not losing sight of the interests of levy payers. This balance, which requires recognition of the wider roles and responsibilities of BIDs, is something which will have to be carefully managed by BID managers in order to ensure that BIDs do not try to do too much, but at the same time act in a way which makes them a key part of their local community and economy. It is an interesting and, at times, difficult place for progressive BIDs to be.

In many areas, BIDs have provided an opportunity for increased community development, and it has been suggested that there could be a formal role for BIDs to play in the wider community development partnerships within localities. BIDs are now being developed to sit alongside existing community anchor bodies, helping to create strong local partnerships and independent communities.

Through collaboration and co-ordination, BIDs are working alongside other services and organisations to help develop sustained community empowerment, helping communities to lobby, providing work experience placements to local young people and acting positively in the form of events to promote increased community cohesion and empowerment, as well as continuing with “normal practice”- increasing footfall in their local area to benefit businesses.

Not all about the money

While generating additional income for the local economy is one of the biggest drivers of support for BIDs in communities, in some instances one of the biggest assets they bring to a community (especially once they are firmly established) is their leverage and collective bargaining power. They have the power to campaign and support other groups in the community on issues that are important to them, as well as offering greater bargaining power with local authorities or other businesses.

As well as commitment to the levy payers’ interest and to improving the local area for people living nearby, another of the potential roles of BIDs is not to act as direct income generators, but as catalysts or facilitators, to encourage new investment and wider growth beyond the BID area – to engage strategically with other partners to encourage investment.

 

Where next for BIDs

As we have already seen, the flexibility of the BID model in Scotland (there are some legislative differences in England) is such that groups may only be limited by their own ambition. Currently Scotland has what is thought to be the world first food and drinks BID and the first tourism BID this side of the Atlantic. Another innovation is the Borders Railway BID, which seeks to maximise the collective benefit to businesses that are located along the railway route.

It has been suggested that the BID model could be used in a more flexible way to generate income for other public service projects, including the suggestion of a BID for health and a BID for schools. Although the intricacies of how these would work in practice are still being considered, there is much that can be taken from how the existing models use community empowerment, and engagement between the public, third and private sectors to create sustainable and inclusive local economic growth in an area.

As well as their commercial enterprising side, BIDs are also realising their potential as agents of community development and improvement beyond that of economic input. The future currently looks bright for BIDs, which will hopefully mean that it also looks brighter for our local communities.


Business Improvement Districts Scotland is the national organisation for BIDs in Scotland, providing support, advice and encouragement to business groups, communities and local authorities considering and developing a business improvement district.

BIDs Scotland held its Annual Gathering on 28th March 2017 at Perth Concert Hall  with the theme of People – Place – Business: Business Improvement Districts – the key to economic growth.

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Smarter tourism: solving the data problem to boost tourism and create better cities

By Steven McGinty

On 22 March, I attended ‘Smarter Tourism: Shaping Glasgow’s Data Plan’, an event held as part of DataFest 2017, a week-long festival of data innovation with events hosted across Scotland.

Daniel MacIntyre, from Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (the city’s official marketing organisation), opened the event by highlighting Glasgow’s ambitious target of increasing visitor numbers from two million to three million by 2023.

To achieve this goal, Mr MacIntyre explained that the city would be looking to develop a city data plan, which would outline how the city should use data to solve its challenges and to provide a better experience for tourists.

In many ways, Glasgow’s tourism goal set the context for the presentations that followed, providing the attendees – who included professionals from the technology and tourism sectors, as well as academia and local government – with an understanding of the city’s data needs and how it could be used.

Identifying the problem

From very early on, there was a consensus in the room that tourism bodies have to identify their problems before seeking out data.

A key challenge for Glasgow, Mr MacIntyre explained, was a lack of real time data. Much of the data available to the city’s marketing bureau was historic (sometimes three years old), and gathered through passenger or visitor experience surveys. It was clear that Mr MacIntrye felt that this approach was rather limiting in the 21st century, highlighting that businesses, including restaurants, attractions, and transport providers were all collecting data, and if marketing authorities could work in collaboration and share this data, it could bring a number of benefits.

In essence, Mr MacIntyre saw Glasgow using data in two ways. Firstly, to provide a range of insights, which could support decision making in destination monitoring, development, and marketing. For instance, having data on refuse collection could help ensure timely collections and cleaner streets. A greater understanding of restaurant, bar, and event attendances could help develop Glasgow’s £5.4 million a year night time economy by producing more informed licensing policies. And the effectiveness of the city’s marketing could be improved by capturing insights from social media data, creating more targeted campaigns.

Secondly, data could be used to monitor or evaluate events. For example, the impact of sporting events such as Champions League matches – which increase visitor numbers to Glasgow and provide an economic boost to the city – could be far better understood.

Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC)

One potential solution to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau’s need for data may be organisations such as the Urban Big Data Centre.

Keith Dingwall, Senior Business Manager for the UBDC, explained that the centre supports researchers, policymakers, businesses, third sector organisations, and citizens by providing access to a wide variety of urban data. Example datasets include: housing; health and social care data; transport data; geospatial data; and physical data.

The UBCD is also involved in a number of projects, including the integrated Multimedia City Data (iMCD) project. One interesting aspect of this work involved the extraction of Glasgow-related data streams from multiple online sources, particularly Twitter. The data covers a one year period (1 Dec 2015 – 30 Nov 2015) and could provide insights into the behaviour of citizens or their reaction to particular events; all of which, could be potentially useful for tourism bodies.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics, i.e. the combination of data and statistical techniques to make predictions about future events, was a major theme of the day.

Faical Allou, Business Development Manager at Skyscanner, and Dr John Wilson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, presented their Predictive Analytics for Tourism project, which attempted to predict future hotel occupancy rates for Glasgow using travel data from Glasgow and Edinburgh airport.

Glasgow City Marketing Bureau also collaborated on the project – which is not too surprising as there a number of useful applications for travel data, including helping businesses respond better to changing events, understanding the travel patterns of visitors to Glasgow, and recommending personalised products and services that enhance the traveller’s experience (increasing visitor spending in the city).

However, Dr Wilson advised caution, explaining that although patterns could be identified from the data (including spikes in occupancy rates), there were limitations due to the low number of datasets available. In addition, one delegate, highlighted a ‘data gap’, suggesting that the data didn’t cover travellers who flew into Glasgow or Edinburgh but then made onward journeys to other cities.

Uber

Technology-enabled transport company, Uber, has been very successful at using data to provide a more customer oriented service. Although much of Uber’s growth has come from its core app – which allows users to hire a taxi service – they are also introducing innovative new services and integrating their app into platforms such as Google Maps, making it easier for customers to request taxi services.

And in some locations, whilst Uber users are travelling, they will receive local maps, as well as information on nearby eateries through their UberEATS app.

Uber Movement, an initiative which provides access to the anonymised data of over two billion urban trips, has the potential to improve urban planning in cities. It includes data which helps tourism officials, city planners, policymakers and citizens understand the impact of rush hours, events, and road closures in their city.

Chris Yiu, General Manager at Uber, highlighted that people lose weeks of their lives waiting in traffic jams. He suggested that the future of urban travel will involve a combination of good public transport services and car sharing services, such as uberPOOL (an app which allows the user to find local people who are going in their direction), providing the first and last mile of journeys.

Final thoughts

The event was a great opportunity to find out about the data challenges for tourism bodies, as well as initiatives that could potentially provide solutions.

Although a number of interesting issues were raised throughout the day, two key points kept coming to the forefront. These were:

  1. The need to clarify problems and outcomes – Many felt it was important that cities identified the challenges they were looking to address. This could be looked at in many ways, from addressing the need for more real-time data, to a more outcome-based approach, such as the need to achieve a 20% reduction in traffic congestion.
  2. Industry collaboration – Much of a city’s valuable data is held by private sector organisations. It’s therefore important that cities (and their tourism bodies) encourage collaboration for the mutual benefit of all partners involved. Achieving a proposition that provides value to industry will be key to achieving smarter tourism for cities.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in: 

Local homes for local people? A referendum in Cornwall could have wider implications for developers of second homes

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St Ives, Cornwall. Image by neiljs via Creative Commons

Last year, a review of rural housing policy highlighted the concentration of second homes in rural areas. The study reported that in many coastal communities and villages in England’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, second homes make up over a quarter of the housing stock – and in some areas this can be as high as 80%.

From holiday havens to investment vehicles

Around 1.6 million people own second homes (properties that are not the owner’s principal residence) in England and Wales, while in Scotland there are about 35,000 second homes.

Second homes are not a new phenomenon. For many years, rural and coastal properties have been purchased as holiday getaways for city-dwellers. More recently, however, second homes have been snapped up as investments, with many left empty for much of the year.

The pros and cons of second homes

Proponents of second homes point to their positive impacts, including the income, jobs and patronage of services they can generate for hard-pressed local areas. One study has also pointed to the social value of second homes in connecting communities to new skills and knowledge. But critics of second homes claim that they distort the housing market and make it hard for local people to get on the property ladder.

The authors of the rural housing review underlined the effects of second homes on local communities and housing:

“Local people are often unable to compete with these buyers and the need for affordable housing becomes even more acute, but supply is very low. Their exclusion from these villages means there is not a large enough permanent population to support local services. The result is a vicious cycle of decline, leaving behind an ageing and increasingly vulnerable population.”

Changing the rules

The issue has come to a head in the Cornish town of St Ives, where residents will vote next week on a neighbourhood plan that includes a measure reserving all newly-built properties exclusively for local people.

The mayor of St Ives claims that the plan to reserve newly-built properties for locals is crucial to the town’s survival, telling The Guardian:

“You can’t overestimate the contribution of second home owners to the economy, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Where you don’t have a sustainable economy, over time the town will wither away. We don’t want that. We want to maintain a thriving community.”

The 2015 rural housing review recommended that areas experiencing high levels of second home ownership should require a proportion of new homes to be given planning permission with the condition that they can only be used as principal residences.

Council Tax discounts

Since 2013, local authorities have had powers to reduce the level of discount awarded for second homes.  Some councils, such as Hertsmere and Perth and Kinross now offer a 10% reduction on second homes, subject to certain conditions. However, Cornwall County Council has abolished its previous 10% discount. The council is so concerned about the rising number of second homes that it also wants to make conversions of properties to second homes subject to planning permission.

A ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’?

Last summer, two other parts of Cornwall gave ‘Yes’ votes to neighbourhood plans, one of which seeks to ensure that new homes do not add to numbers of second homes and holiday lets in the area. A similar referendum took place three years ago in the Devon community of Lynton and Lynmouth, where residents voted to stop the development of new second homes.

It’s possible that St Ives could follow suit, although at least one developer has indicated that it would challenge the plan under human rights law.

The St Ives referendum takes place on 5 May. While other parts of the country are watching the results for the devolved assemblies, local councils and the new mayor of London, the residents of St Ives will be waiting for a decision that could change the face of its economy. But as housing shortages continue to rise up the political agenda across the country, councils, home owners, planners and developers in other parts of the UK will be waiting for the St Ives result with particular interest.

The rising price of checking in: is there a case for visitor taxes, or will business fund tourism development?

Tourism has a big impact on the UK economy. Figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council show that:

  • The total contribution of travel and tourism to UK GDP was £187.7bn in 2014, and is forecast to rise to £263.9bn in 2025
  • In 2014 travel and tourism directly supported 5.7% of total UK employment
  • Visitor exports from the UK generated £27.4bn (5.6% of total exports) in 2014
  • Travel and tourism investment in 2014 was £13.0bn (4.2% of total investment).

However, tourism development comes at a price, and often the burden falls on local government. Museums and galleries require year-round maintenance; organising, policing and cleaning up after major events can generate significant costs, and spreading the word about an area’s attractions can be expensive. At the same time, responding to the environmental impacts of tourism – from waste management to traffic congestion – can put additional strains on local budgets that are already under pressure from austerity measures.

Which is why some councils have been revisiting the idea of taxing the tourist.

A case for local tourism taxes?

In some of the world’s major cities, accommodation taxes for overseas tourists have become commonplace:

  • Paris charges a city tax based on the grading of the hotel and the part of town it’s in
  • New York bases its hotel tax on a formula of a set amount based on the room value
  • Berlin levies a tax of 5% of the room rate, but has a business traveller exemption

In the UK, accommodation taxes have failed to gain widespread support. The 2007 Lyons Inquiry into the role, function and funding of English Local Government floated the idea of a local visitor tax to be levied by local authorities.

“… in some areas there may be a case for a tourist related tax, developed in partnership with local businesses and residents – possibly through an annual bed licensing scheme levied on operators, or alternatively by directly levying the tax on overnight visitors.”

Both the Labour government and the opposition parties made it clear that they would not be taking the Lyons recommendation any further.

However, the recession of 2008 and subsequent budgetary pressures on local government have forced local authorities to find additional sources of revenue to support tourism development.

  • In 2015, Camden Council was reported to be looking at adopting a £1-a-night bed tax, similar to charges used in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona. It was estimated that the additional charge could raise £5m a year which could be used for additional street cleaning in popular tourist areas.
  • Edinburgh City Council proposed the introduction of a tourist tax to help pay for major events, such as the city’s world-famous arts festivals and Hogmanay celebrations.

In 2013, the London Finance Commission suggested a tourism tax could have particular potential in London because of the size and needs of the capital’s leisure and tourism industry:

“If the city’s cultural, tourist and  entertainment industry are to flourish, there is a powerful argument for a levy that could then be reinvested in marketing and urban realm improvements.”

 The tourist sector’s view

The UK’s tourist industry is strongly against imposing additional charges on tourists, arguing that VAT and the air passenger levy already make the UK one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Europe.

Edinburgh’s proposed tourist tax provoked strong opposition from the industry. A spokesman for an alliance of 250 Scottish tourism businesses and organisations said:

“We are already contributing a huge amount to the economy. It is too easy to take a swipe at us. Scotland is already an expensive place to come and visit because of the value of the euro at present. A tourist tax would simply add further expense for the visitor coming here.”

Another way forward?

Although there is support in some local authorities for an accommodation tax on visitors, the powers to impose such taxes would require new legislation, which in the present political climate is unlikely.

An alternative route to finding additional funding may be found in the idea of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). These are business-led partnerships which are created to improve the business environment of a commercial area through, for example, improvements to infrastructure and services, public safety, promotion and marketing. The Centre for London has suggested that the BIDs idea could be further developed to create Tourist BIDs, or T-BIDs. In the United States, T-BIDs have been credited with reshaping the tourism landscape and boosting visitor numbers by specifically funding tourism development.

In 2014, the UK’s first T-BID was established when six Highland Council wards voted to establish the Loch Ness and Inverness Tourism BID. Further T-BIDs have also been proposed in Birmingham and Torbay, and it appears that Edinburgh is now also thinking along these lines. The idea is not without its critics, and some businesses have expressed concern that it may amount to a “backdoor tourism tax.”

There are no quick fixes to the challenge of financing tourism development, but if the UK’s visitor economy is to continue growing, the public and private sectors need to continue exploring funding models that meet escalating demands.


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Further blog posts from The Knowledge Exchange on economic development:

Scotland’s Best Place

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© Copyright Gordon Czeschel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

by Heather Cameron

Dundee waterfront has been voted as the winner of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland’s Best Places initiative, beating Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way to the title of ‘best place’ in Scotland.

The competition, part of the RTPI’s 2014 Centenary celebrations and backed by Barton Willmore and the Scottish Government, aimed to find places across Scotland which have been improved by planners, planning and the planning system since 1914. Chair of the initiative’s Expert Panel, Alistair MacDonald, commented in a recent article in Scottish Planner that ‘it has showcased places that have been conserved or that have been built from scratch or close to nothing’. Continue reading

Can cities exploit, conserve & promote their historic environment?

Liverpool Albert Dock

Liverpool is an example of a city which has seen tension between commercial development and its World Heritage Status

by Stephen Lochore

According to a recent talk on Sustainable Development in World Heritage Cities, urban heritage has not been adequately addressed by existing multinational agreements designed to guide approaches to sustainable development. Examples of such agreements include the outputs of the United Nations’ Earth Summit 2012 or 1992’s Local Agenda 21 and the subsequent ‘Aalborg’ Charter of European Sustainable Cities and Towns Towards Sustainability, which over 100 UK local authorities signed. Continue reading

Promoting a high training culture in tourism

London 2012 volunteer

by Brelda Baum

Training and skills remain perennial issues for the tourism industry.  Therefore, the recent call by UK Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock at a Work Foundation conference on skills, held on 3rd March 2014, for a move from a low to a high ‘training culture’ resonates with the European Commission’s proposal to establish a set of voluntary European Tourism Quality Principles.  These are intended to ensure that tourists travelling to other Member States or visiting Europe from other countries will get value for their money. Training lies at the heart of these principles.

A newly published UKCES report on ‘The Future of Work: Jobs and skills in 2030’ offers a number of possible scenarios  including ‘skills activism’, Continue reading